Vintage and veteran bicycles of quality and how to preserve them for future generations, with a particular interest in the French 'constructeurs'. Please note all images are my copyright unless otherwise stated, and may only be used with my express permission.
This type of cap was worn by racing cyclists in the 1880’s and 90’s. Typically silk caps would have only been used for racing on the path (track), whilst wool caps would have been used on the road. On the front peak are embroidered the letters L.B.C standing for London Bicycle Club, which was one of the earliest cycling clubs, founded in 1874. The cap is of silk, in dark blue, claret and black panels. The lettering and braid are of silver, which has tarnished to black. Imagine what it looked like when it was new!
The cap was made by Goy, the leading Cyclist’s outfitters in the City of London. Goy’s seem to have been a large company that also sold bicycles and accessories, as well as equipment for other sports. Their logo of the ship mast and sails is beautifully printed in gold on the lining of the cap. The cap is in exceptional condition for it’s age.
Some images of cap-wearing racing cyclists of the 1880’s…
It is a very rare item indeed. My friend Gertjan Moed, who owns and runs the wonderful Nationaal Fietsmuseum Velorama bicycle museum in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, told me that he had never seen one in 40+ years of collecting.
Here the cap is modeled by the perennially dapper Guy Hills of Dashing Tweeds fame.
In the early days of cycling a bell was the most common means to warn pedestrians, horse riders and carriages of the approach of a cyclist. The earliest forms were simply globe-shaped rumble bells attached to the handlebars by a leather strap. They rang continuously as the machine rattled over the roadway. Later came a bell with a sprung lever to sound it only when required. If you were riding an Ordinary (penny farthing or high bicycle) this was very necessary to ensure that the horses were prepared for this strange beast passing by, often taller than the horse. As we know, horses are highly strung, and their reaction to bicycles, particularly high ones, can be unpredictable. There were many disasters in the early days with carriages running out of control, the horses having been spooked by cyclists, and there were many serious injuries to bike riders. As reports in cycling journals and many court cases evidence, there was quite a bit of animosity between horse and carriage owners and cyclists in the early days.
There were other means of making noise for cyclists. A small bugle, often made by Henry Keat and Sons of Stoke Newington, London, was used by Clubs as a rallying call. A number of the Clubs even had their own specific bugle calls. There were various other types of pocket horns and sirens.
Then there were whistles. These were commonly kept in the top pocket of one’s jacket, attached by a chain with a T-bar through the lapel buttonhole, or sometimes with a lanyard around the neck, so they could quickly be whipped out for use. Whistles specific to cycling are now very rare. The earliest and rarest whistle here is marked ‘The Kings Own’ and T.B.L.W. The latter stood for Thomas Bowling Lamp Works, after the Joseph Lucas works in Little King Street, Birmingham. ‘The Kings Own’ was used as a trade name for Lucas TBLW lamps as well. It dates from the early to mid 1880’s. It has two holes and consequently two tones. You can hear it being blown here!.
The second is an ACME whistle with a rider on an Ordinary on each side. I’ve never been able to establish if this whistle is from the time of the high bicycle, or made later as a decorative item. Still, its a rare and lovely beast. You can hear it being blown here!
The next whistle is marked ‘The Cyclist’s Road Clearer H.A.K. & Co.’ It was made by J.Stevens and Son of London and Glasgow, and probably dates from the 1890’s. You can hear it being blown here!
The other whistles pictured here are not necessarily related to cycling but I like to imagine they were the sort of items used by early pioneers of the road. I particularly like the Acme Siren, which you can hear in operation here.
Here is a most interesting saddle dating from the Edwardian period c.1905. Many of you will be familiar with the typical woven cord ‘hammock’ saddle fitted to Dursley-Pedersen bicycles (see left), but here is a variation on the theme that can be fitted other suitable bicycles of the period. The framework is of nickel plated wire and the cantilevered nose-piece is tensioned by a substantial spring. The tensioning of the spring is altered by tightening or loosening the knurled adjuster on the bolt which passes through the spring. The cover on this example was beautifully re-woven by Tony Colegrave, and the frame re-plated. I can report that I find it just as uncomfortable as the Dursley-Pedersen saddle!
Fitted to my porteur is this rather nice novelty of a French alloy and steel bell… The Couco-Coo. You can hear what it sounds like here! It has a very simple mechanism which cleverly strikes the alloy top bell first and the steel lower bell on the return stroke thus making the couco-coo sound! There is a cockerel embossed into the lever and the name is on the other side.
My friend Rob recently alerted me to this short film by Benedict Campbell about the Ken Fox Troupe who are one of the few remaining Wall of Death acts. This film is a thing of beauty, every frame being exquisitely shot. It really conveys the atmosphere of this extraordinary performance, but also captures the personalities of the people involved. Of course, that is the motorcycle version of this act…. It reminded me that there were also bicycle versions of this dangerous entertainment. These included Barnum and Bailey’s Kinetic Demon of 1903, where the small diameter wooden track was at a full ninety degrees to the ground. The track was made of quite widely spaced vertical slats so that it could be viewed from ground level through the slats, rather than from above as in the motorcycle versions. Sometimes, for even greater dramatic effect and danger, the banked track was even suspended in mid air. Pictured here is the fantastic poster, surely one of the finest images ever of a cycling subject, for The 7 Wild Wheel Whirl Wonders. Between two and seven of these male and female cyclists raced around a 70 degree banked track 5 feet in height and just 20 feet in diameter! They were part of Forepaugh and Sells Brothers American circus of around 1905. Their acts also included the Diavolo, where cyclists, for some inexplicable reason dressed as devils, would charge down a steep ramp and then loop the loop around a wooden construction, whilst Barnum and Bailey featured a similar act where there was a large gap in the top of the loop – thus Looping the Gap! Unsurprisingly, injuries and even deaths were not uncommon. What a sight these performances must have been….
I was unable to find the source of the great image above. It was found in this excellent article about Looping the Loop